Fighting Period Poverty to Keep Kenyan Girls in School

I am delighted to share what is hopefully the first of many partnership projects between she will survive, Ntoyie Africa (NCBO) and Kenya Water for Health Organization (KWAHO) to provide and distribute sanitary products and educational materials to students in Kajiado west, in Kajiado County, Kenya.

In Kenya, period poverty is a huge problem. Approximately 50-65% of all girls do not have access to proper sanitary products. There are various reasons for this. There is a huge stigma and lack of understanding around menstruation. Poverty can also play a role, but even in communities where poverty is not an issue, parents may simply not realise the importance of providing sanitary products for their children. Menstrual hygiene awareness is lacking, and though there are organisations working to combat this, many children (and even their parents) are not entirely sure about how to properly deal with menstruation, how it impacts personal hygiene, how to use sanitary products, or even how to properly and safely dispose of used sanitary products.

UNESCO estimates that one in 10 adolescent girls in Kenya miss school during menstruation and eventually drop out because of menstruation-related issues. These issues can range from the inaccessibility of affordable sanitary protection, the social stigmas related to menstruation, and the culture of silence that surrounds it. The cost of sanitary products like undergarments and towels is also beyond the reach of most young women and girls, who in are the majority of the unemployed and those living in poverty. Most girls end up not going to school, because they cannot afford to buy sanitary products.

Just over a week ago, a Kenyan teenage girl committed suicide after returning home from school due to period shaming. She had been menstruating and had stained her clothes as she didn’t have anything to use as a sanitary towel.

In Kajiado County, just outside the country’s capital, Nairobi, ten percent of girls regularly miss school when menstruating, and we wanted to do something to help. So on September 13th, 2019, representatives from Ntoyie Africa and KWAHO visited Esonorua Primary School and Oltepesi Primary Schools to distribute sanitary products sponsored by she will survive and to provide menstrual hygiene management awareness training for students (including boys) and teachers at both schools.⁠ We managed to reach approximately 300 students during this visit and aim to continue to work with local schools in Kajiado County to try and keep girls in school by helping to provide menstrual and hygiene education and sustainable sanitary products.

Impact

  • 150 girls were mentored on menstrual education, hygiene and sanitation
  • 88 girls received sanitary towels for the entire term in school
  • 20 teachers trained on the Importance Of Menstrual Health Education in schools and given supporting information on managing various issues
  • Roughly 300 boys were mentored and provided with menstrual education and sensitivity training, for example teaching them how to talk to girls in case they happen to see them experiencing their periods

Key issues raised

  • Lack of water for sanitation in schools make it difficult for teachers to properly support girls
  • Often, the cost of sanitary products for girls is simply too high, forcing them to skip school to tend to their bleeding
  • The stigma around menstruation plays a major role in preventing girls from continuing their education past puberty
  • Lack of education about menstruation is one of many barriers to achieving adequate menstrual hygiene
  • Lack of menstrual health education for boys in primary schools leads to bullying
  • Lack of proper toilets in schools make it difficult for both teachers and students
  • Lack of sanitary towels and proper underwear for girls leads to high rates of absenteeism, dropping out of school entirely and teenage marriages

Key takeaways

  • There is need to support schools in rural areas to build good sanitary facilities. There is a particular need for toilets, running water, proper sanitary towels disposal and changing rooms for girls
  • Teachers need to be trained on the guidelines about menstrual health education for girls and boys in primary schools
  • Teachers need to be trained on mental health, to include topics like teaching students on how to identify symptoms of anxiety in their peers, as this can be a result of lack of education on menstrual management or discomfort of confusion due to menstruation
Girls from other schools demonstrate how to use sanitary towels. This approach is taken to make the primary students feel safe, secure, and to know that menstruation and using sanitary products is completely normal. This approach also helps to break down the stigma.

The next steps include providing a more sustainable solution. Sanitary towel donations are wonderful but they aren’t sustainable as a long-term solution. Nor are they good for the environment. So together with Ntoyie CBO, we are working on a project to provide girls with reusable sanitary products, and to see if we can train local women from marginalised communities and teach them to sew these products with the end goal of keeping girls in school.⁠

This falls in-line with my bigger plan, which is to launch a social enterprise to empower women from marginalised communities, particularly those at risk of being impacted by gender-based violence, by training them to sew. Upon completion of the *FREE* training, graduates can choose to stay on as employees with fair wages and verified fair trade working conditions. The products will include reusable sanitary items which will be donated to local schools in communities where the women are based. The women can also choose to use their new skills to start their own businesses or find employment elsewhere.

A portion of all proceeds will be invested back into the sewing centres to ensure good working conditions are maintained, allow for additional trainings and benefits for the women who are involved, and to allow more women to take part in trainings and contribute as employees.

My long-term goal is to make this a replicable model to implement elsewhere, but my primary focus areas for now are India and Kenya.

If you’re interested in contributing, I’d be very grateful for any donation, no matter what the amount. A small amount can go a surprisingly long way in impacting a young girl’s future.

You can contribute to this very important cause at https://www.gofundme.com/f/2t2zk-she-will-survive. Your generosity would be very much appreciated and of course, detailed updates will be provided.

2 Comments

  1. ntoyieafrica says:

    Thank you for your consideration to work with Ntoyie Africa to reach out to girls from the marginalized community in Kenya and impact their lives.

    Liked by 1 person

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